The Royal Air Force came to Leighton Park during World War II in a rather unexpected way: Grove House was commandeered by the WAAF for some time. As you would expect in a boys boarding school, this provoked much interest; "The Leightonian" reports "The occupation of Grove House by a female contingent of the RAF who slightly disturbed and considerably brightened the all male atmosphere with their military exercises in very colourful and non-military attire." The occupants of Grove were squeezed in to School and Reckitt Houses.
Old Leightonians in the RAF popped in to the Park at times, which considerable cheered the boys. The Leightonian is full of reports and anecdotes from the front line.
"Squadron Leader Robin Langdon-Davies (1932-1936) is to be warmly congratulated upon the award of a DFC: “ I felt much the same emotion as when I got my hockey colours ”.
M i c h a e l Ross (1937-1940) on the award of the DFC: "We understand he is enjoying life in India. The citation states: “ By unswerving perseverance and devotion to duty he has set an inspiring example to other members of his squadron. On one occasion, in August 1944, he voluntarily made a four-hours’ search at low level in appalling weather for a pilot from his squadron, who had been forced to leave his aircraft by parachute over jungle-covered territory."
F l ig h t -Lieutenant James Hall (1934-1939) "greatly distinguished himself recently by destroying two German bombers near London. He was not far from his old School on this operation. Journalists were not long in ringing up the School asking for a life history. Our own feelings were chiefly of thankfulness that he came safely through this exciting time....He sends us the following account of his recent experiences: “ I came over to France with my Squadron last October (1944). We spent the winter at Amiens, on an aerodrome which had been pretty thoroughly wrecked by the Germans and our own bombing before we got there. I found that my French came in quite useful; it’s astonishing how many educated Englishmen don’t speak a word of it—V.W.A. (Modern Languages teacher Victor Alexander) achieved a greater triumph than I realized at the time !
Flight-Lieutenant Peter Staple (1931-1935) "is pulling out teeth in India where there seems to be a deplorable shortage of dentists. He does a fourteen-hour day in a temperature of 100 degrees F."
Celebrated poet Basil Bunting, imprisoned as a Conscientious Objector in World War I, failed to join the army or navy due to poor eyesight, but being able to speak Persian was enlisted into the RAF. In 1942 he was sent to Iran, first as an interpreter, rising to the rank of Squadron Leader, based within the Baḵtiāri region, and later work ingas an intelligence officer for MI6. He is thought to have quelled a German supported Baḵtiāri uprising. In Iran he quickly mastered many of the local dialects. His squadron was moved to the Mediterranean in 1943. Towards the end of the War, Bunting was ordered back to London and then appointed vice-consul in Isfahan; his job combined espionage and diplomacy, deal ing with both American and Russian Intelligence Services. In 1947 he was once more sent to Iran as Chief of Political Intelligence in Tehran.
Sadly, the school War Memorial Boards carry the names of those who fell serving in the Royal Air Force:
Second Lieutenant Wilfred Pollard: died from haemorrhage from flying at great height. 5th July 1918.
Lieutenant W Percival Southall: shot down over enemy lines, possibly by the infamous Red Baron, on May 28th 1918.
Second Lieutenant Hubert Ransom: killed in action March 27th 1918.
Flight Sergeant Joseph Fox Armitage; missing on air operations June 17th 1941.
Peter Henry Basson; killed in action 1942.
Flight Sergeant Malcolm Baxter; missing in air operations Bochum, Germany June 11th 1943.
Pilot Officer William Walker Burgon; missing on air operations June 10th 1941.
Leading Aircraftman George William Martin Duncan; killed in an accident, Canada on May 15th 1942.
Sergeant Robert Michael Minchin; missing on air operations over Germany September 1941.
Sergeant Philip Wadham Newbegin; missing on air operations January 1943.
Flight Sergeant Adrian Pearson; missing on a flight to North Africa on May 24th 1944.
Leading Aircraftman David Noel Pearman Roger; killed in an accident October 10th 1941.
Teacher: Ronald G Odden killed over Holland June 22nd 1944.
February 6th 2018 was the 100th anniversary of British women gaining the right to vote. The passage of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 only allowed certain women over the age of 30 to vote, about 40% of women across the country. Yet years of struggle had gone into this achievement, with the power of the protest playing a crucial role. At Leighton Park too, while still firmly a boys' school with few female staff, the issue provoked considerable debate, with strong views for and against suffrage.
We are fortunate to have the Minutes of the Debating Society with a number of different entries over a period of ten years or so. However on 25th November 2011 there was a debate on "In the opinion of the house, sex should be no disability to the suffrage" proposed by J King. In beautiful copperplate handwriting, the arguments for and against are recorded, echoing so many of the arguments regularly raised.